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Published: Friday, 7/25/2014 - Updated: 4 months ago

Atlanta-based company buys WTVG-TV

Sister station in Flint, Mich. also sold as part of $128M agreement

BY TYREL LINKHORN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
WTVG, Channel 13 and WJRT in Flint are ABC affiliates. WTVG, Channel 13 and WJRT in Flint are ABC affiliates.
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Viewers aren’t likely to notice any major changes at WTVG-TV, Channel 13, as the station comes under new ownership later this year.

“If we felt like we had to go in and make a lot of changes, we probably wouldn’t have been interested in the stations in the first place,” said Hilton Howell, chief executive officer of Gray Television Inc.

Atlanta-based Gray announced Thursday that it had agreed to purchase WTVG and sister station WJRT in Flint, Mich., for $128 million in cash. The deal must clear regulatory approval, though Mr. Howell said he did not expect any difficulties in doing so.

Both WTVG and WJRT are ABC affiliates owned by California-based SJL Broadcasting.

Mr. Howell praised the work SJL officials have done with WTVG since purchasing the station for $16.8 million in 2011.

“I think the stations are exceptionally well run. We’re very proud of the management team in place, the broadcast team in place, and their level of community outreach,” Mr. Howell said.

Peter Veto, WTVG’s general manager, said Gray is a solid company, and the deal should give the station access to more resources.

“They’re on the cutting edge of our industry,” Mr. Veto said. “They’re innovators. They don’t just go after some cookie-cutter technology. They are trying to develop better digital and mobile technology.”

Indeed, Mr. Howell said the only immediate action they plan to take with WTVG is expanding its digital capabilities.

WTVG has been the dominant Toledo news station both in ratings and advertising demographics. Over the recent May sweeps period, Nielsen Media Research Co. said WTVG led the market’s 5 to 7 morning newscasts, as well as the 5 to 6 and 6 to 6:30 evening news in total viewers and in the key advertising demographic of ages 25 to 54.

Nielsen said WTVG was second in viewership for the 11 p.m. newscast but took first in the important 25-to-54 advertising demographic.

Mr. Howell said that was particularly attractive to Gray.

“We really look for television stations that have a strong news presence, that bring news content to the local community. That’s something we pride ourselves on as a company. WTVG does that. They are one of the leading broadcasts and TV stations in the community and do a fantastic job. That’s a natural fit for us.”

Gray Television owns or operates television stations in 40 markets across 24 states.

In addition to the deal announced Thursday, a deal is pending for Gray to acquire two stations in Montana.

The addition of WTVG and WJRT gives Gray strong coverage of an area from Lansing, where it owns an NBC affiliate, to Toledo.

WTVG will be Gray’s first Ohio-based station, but Mr. Howell said the company is reaching a number of Ohio viewers from its stations in Parkersburg and Huntington, W.Va.

Mr. Howell said FCC approval typically takes about 60 days.

Shares of Gray Television Inc. were up a little less than 1 percent on the New York Stock Exchange to close at $12.75 Thursday.

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at tlinkhorn@theblade.com or 419-724-6134 or on Twitter @BladeAutoWriter.



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